COVID-19 completely disrupted sports this year. At the pro level, most of the chaos was felt in the earlier part of the year. Although profits fell, with fewer games broadcast and stadiums sitting empty, owners didn’t sweat too much. Billionaires came up big this year. But while many athletes, like Zion Williamson and Kevin Love, donated to arena workers, many executives held onto their paychecks. Nowhere was this more egregious than in the soccer industry among the FIFA leadership.
How COVID-19 impacted soccer globally
Around the world, major soccer leagues suddenly paused in March. Many semi-pro and amateur leagues remain shut down. The months-long disruption led to a slow restart for most, however, resulting in a similar pattern for most sports. Players would unceremoniously disappear after positive tests. Games were randomly canceled. Stadiums sat empty in places where COVID-19 ran rampant.
The sudden instability in cash flows hit soccer harder than most sports. In most club soccer leagues, transactions are cash deals rather than the NBA-style player swapping American fans are more familiar with. Players took huge hits in their overall value thanks to the shy bidding for their services. Some lost as much as 28% of their pre-pandemic projected value.
Soccer clubs are unhappy with FIFA’s handling of the pandemic
At the start of the pandemic, the idea of international soccer seemed absurd. FIFA’s executive board was not interested in putting their prized tournament on the shelf. An unprecedented pandemic was not enough for them to change their plans, beyond minor schedule shifting, SB Nation reports.
This rigidity led to some dangerous pandemic-related problems. The best players are, of course, on national teams more often than not. This exposed them to the inherent risk of playing teams from around the world. Clubs don’t currently have the ability to prevent players from attending international events. This puts their players and staff at home at risk.
The Seattle Times reports that financial issues are also a subject of contention. FIFA is recommending belt-tightening at all levels, in particular pushing for players and managers to take large pay cuts to keep teams solvent. It’s understandable that extraordinary times call for extraordinary actions. But on the FIFA end of things, good faith doesn’t appear to be part of the bargain.
The FIFA council insulated themselves from the austerity
A New York Times report revealed that while FIFA’s executives are vocally pushing for pay cuts and other austere measures for international soccer. But they’ve conveniently left themselves out of the sacrifices. In fact, they’re being paid the same to do much less than would be expected of them in a normal year.
The only payment milestones for the 37-member governing council are meeting attendance. As few as three are all that is required for full salaries to be paid out. That includes simply showing up for one phone call — listen-only mode — for an immediate $80,000 payment milestone. While players are losing money, and stadium employees are losing their jobs entirely, the executive board decided their services were too crucial to suffer even a minor pay cut.